China Daily 30 Anniversary Edition

Dandong's watches ticking away smoothly again

By Wu Yong and Liu Ce (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-01 08:24
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Wang Zhenshan, 60-some years old, who lives in Dandong, Liaoning province, has a watch collection numbering more than 400 items with at least 50 different brands - all produced in Dandong.

There are Andongs, Evergreens, Red Flags, and of course Liaonings, not to mention the Peacock brand, China's most famous in the 20th century.

In talking about his Dandong watches, Wang said proudly, "Dandong built a watch factory as early as 1957. At that time, few places could make watches except for Shanghai and Tianjin.

"Then, the Dandong watch became the pride of factory workers, and brought honor to the whole city."

The city was one of China's three major watch producers, with experienced laborers and manufacturing prowess.

In the city's heyday, the Liaoning Watch Factory turned out 3.8 million watches yearly, and employed 12,000 people.

And Peacock was the brand, and a symbol of Dandong's light industrial capabilities.

"Whether it was in Dandong or in Beijing, a Peacock watch was gone almost as soon as it hit the shelf," Wang explained.

Many potential buyers from across the country had to wait for some time, even in Dandong, just to get one, he recalled.

Unfortunately, Peacock's glory faded along with the influx of more fashionable, cheaper foreign brands in the Chinese market.

But, after 10 years of hard work, Dandong's watch industry has managed to get a new lease on life.

Between 2001 and 2007, Dandong's watches were making a good comeback, and local watchmakers are now performing better in their management practices, as well as R&D and brand building.

Work started on Liaoning's first watch industry park, in Dandong in July 2009. The city wants to build a world-class watch base, one that can compete with the likes of Switzerland.

The park is being built on a 130-acre area at a cost of 2 billion yuan ($308 million). So far, 55,000 square meters of work, with 11 factory buildings, a research center and a gallery, has been completed.

The park is designed with a production capacity of one million watches, and will "promote the watch industry of Liaoning, and even the whole country's development", according to Tian Minyu, president of the China Watch Association.

"We will use this opportunity to create our own brands and try to attract more investment from China and abroad to make it stronger and healthier," added Zhao Liansheng, mayor of Dandong.

The city government has come up with policies that help with financial support, factory rents, R&D facilities, and taxes and loans, and has more than 10 investment projects for watches and key parts from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

"We'll do everything we can to build our own brands and develop a watch industrial center, one that can help Dandong gain a foothold here and abroad. This is Dandong's hope and it matters for the future," the mayor concluded.

(China Daily 06/01/2011 page42)